I have a very good friend who studies marriage for a living. Literally. She is a walking encyclopedia of facts about why people marry, when people marry, why it works or doesn’t work, etc., etc. Needless to say, her work fascinates me.
Shortly after I separated, this friend told me about “sliders” and “deciders.” In the marriage research world, “sliders” are those who marry almost by default…. they metaphorically slide into their marriage. A date that was fine turns into a relationship because he seems perfectly nice so why not keep dating him, which then turns into something committed because who really wants to sleep around anyway, which then turns into living together because it’s silly to pay two rents, which then turns into a marriage because isn’t that the next logical step? Notice how every choice made here is actually the result of being passive, rather than active.
“Deciders,” on the other hand, actively select their partner. He picks her, not because he’s lonely or afraid of ending up alone, but because she, and only she, rocks his world. She might have never planned to marry, but marries him because they have a connection she’s never experienced before. Get the idea? Deciders tend to marry later, stay married longer, and report higher levels of marital satisfaction. No surprise there.
Here’s the sad news: we are a country of “sliders.” Despite our romantic notions and chronic worship of the soul mate ideal, we are taught to lower our expectations. Being picky is not generally viewed as a good thing. How many of you have been asked (or asked of a friend), “Why did you break up with him? He seems perfectly nice!” Ummm…. if that’s the basis for selecting a mate to whom we pledge ourselves for a lifetime, is it any wonder how many of us end up divorced?
Let me acknowledge at this point that people have different needs and different ideas of what is perfect for them in a mate, and that those needs and ideas change over time, both within a person’s lifetime, and over the history of the world, as circumstances around us change. But I am not talking about a one-size fits all kind of love here. I am talking about being true to your own ideal of love.
According to my friend the marriage guru, 75% of second marriages fail. When I first heard that, a few months after separating, I was despondent. What did that mean for people like me, who left her marriage precisely so she could find something better in a committed relationship? It was scary stuff. But since then, I’ve observed and absorbed and I realized that it’s amazing that the statistic isn’t higher, because very few people seem to truly examine what went wrong in their marriage beyond blaming their spouse. And so, according to the researchers, we simply carry our old baggage into our new relationship and doom it. It seems that the short explanation is that, even after a divorce, most people are still sliders.
Well, I am not. In the last few years, I have realized that I will never again be a slider. I have gone on many, many first dates with many nice men, a much smaller number of second dates, and very few third dates or beyond. Why? Because if I have to work to like them, to really feel something for them or about them, I know that in a couple of years things between us will be stale or worse. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with most of these men (okay, a few were downright weird or mean, but most were great); they just weren’t right for me.
Here’s the thing: I don’t want “fine” or “good enough.” I want something that is infinitely more than that. I want something that is worth the pain of my decision to end my marriage and break my family up. I want to teach my daughters to maintain high standards and expectations so that they don’t slide, either.
Some friends, needing to validate their own slider relationships, I suspect, have tried to tell me that I’m unrealistic, that “good enough” is as good as it gets. But I know they’re wrong, because I see evidence of it nearly every day. I am blessed to have friends in relationships that are amazing — not because they are perfect, certainly, but because they are rich and full and dynamic. These relationships have heat and passion and consideration and humor and caring. And my assessments are not based solely on my own observations; my marital unhappiness emboldened me to ask people about their relationships and I discovered that plenty of people I know have more than “good enough.”
As I nosed around in my friends’ relationships, they revealed a sweetness of experience that made me joyful and hopeful: “Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning, I look at him and still get butterflies. Seriously. After 17 years!” “The only bad part of having the new baby is not having the energy for sex. It makes us both cranky because we miss each other so much.” “He makes me want to be the best version of myself I can be, and a better version that I ever imagined before him.” I love being around these couples. True, deep and abiding love is expansive; it expands to envelope the people around it, beyond just the couple who create it. It is a like a balm to the cynicism and resignation that is so prevalent in our world today.
So please don’t tell me that I’m too demanding or too picky or that I should date that guy because he seems nice enough. Dating can be a lot of fun, and sex is definitely one of my favorite past-times ever, but you won’t see me playing house with some guy just because there doesn’t seem to be a good reason not to. This time, I’ll be a decider.